UK gunrunners fuelling killings, mass rape and torture in Democratic Republic of Congo

According to documents and witness statements obtained by Amnesty International, six flights of arms from Albanian company MEICO, took place from Tirana to Kigali in planeloads each carrying over 40 metric tones of arms and ammunition in October/November 2002.

This included several million rounds of Kalashnikov ammunition. At least one shipment contained grenades and rocket launchers.

Amnesty International has found that three of the companies involved in these arms deliveries operated from the UK:

  • African International Airways (Crawley, West Sussex)
  • Intavia Ltd (Crawley and Gatwick), and
  • Platinum Air Cargo (Egham, Surrey)

The shipments from south east Europe have continued to Rwanda using other cargo companies despite a peace process initiated in 2002, a United Nations arms embargo and Rwandan backing of DRC rebels.

At the same time, further arms supplies flowed into the eastern DRC from agents close to the Kinshasa and Uganda governments.

Amnesty International’s report, Democratic Republic of Congo: Arming the east, reveals the role played by arms dealers, brokers and transporters from countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, the UK and USA.

It traces the supply of weapons and ammunition to the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and their subsequent distribution to armed groups and militia in the eastern DRC that have been involved in atrocities amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Mike Blakemore said:

'Millions have already lost their lives during seven years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Armed men are still raping, looting and killing civilians – as arms deliveries continue.

'If the international community, the UN and individual countries involved fail to halt this proliferation, the fragile peace process will collapse with disastrous consequences.'

'Evidence that UK-based firms have profited from these deals is sickening. The UK government should ensure that a full, independent and public investigation takes place, with all documentation made public.'

The new report documents evidence that during the entire peace process in the DRC, military aid has been provided from agents close to the Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC governments to armed groups and militia in eastern DRC.

The report also provides evidence of the continuing role of Russian arms trafficker Victor Bout and his close associates, using local operators, who have secretly armed all sides in the DRC conflict.

Amnesty International is calling on the United Nations Security Council to renew and strengthen the UN embargo on arms exports to the DRC and impose severe restrictions or embargoes on any state found to be exporting arms to armed groups or militia in the DRC.

The Council must ensure that all airports in the eastern DRC are monitored by specialised UN inspectors 24 hours a day, and that all aircraft found carrying illegal arms cargoes are grounded.

The organisation is also calling on all states to ensure that violations of the UN arms embargoes are made a serious criminal offence and to investigate all credible reports of illegal arms transfers.

Supplier states named in the report should investigate whether any laws have been broken and if their arms export systems are sufficiently strict and consistent with international law.

Amnesty International is calling for an Arms Treaty to strictly control the transfer of all conventional arms and prevent them being used for grave human rights abuses.

Other military aid and arms transfers documented in the report include:

Rwanda

  • Up to 400 tonnes of mostly surplus Kalashnikov ammunition shipped from Albania and Serbia to Rwanda with the involvement of Israeli, Rwandan, South African and UK companies between the end of 2002 and mid 2003, followed by more flights from eastern Europe in mid-2004;
  • A further order for 130 tonnes of surplus arms and ammunition from Bosnia approved by the US government in November 2004 against the backdrop of new US military aid agreements for Rwanda;
  • Ongoing military support by Rwanda to armed groups in the DRC, particularly the RCD-Goma, linked to exploitation of the country’s natural resources.
  • DRC

  • The existence of arms-for-diamonds agreements involving the DRC government and companies in the Czech Republic, Israel and the Ukraine;
  • Evidence in 2004 of an arms trafficking network linking the DRC and Liberia involving international cargo companies;
  • The transfer of over 200 tons of arms to a pro-government armed group in north Kivu by a local company using aircraft from a South African firm supplying UN peacekeepers in 2003.
  • Uganda

  • The Ugandan government’s failure to report to the UN imports of weapons and ammunition from Croatia and Slovakia worth over US$ 1million in 2002;
  • Donations of military vehicles from China in 2002 and attempts by the Ugandan government to import more arms from Israel in 2003;
  • Evidence that the Ugandan military authorities repeatedly supplied arms, ammunition and military support to armed opposition groups in the eastern DRC in 2003 and 2004, especially to groups controlling DRC gold mining areas and trade routes.
  • Mike Blakemore said:

    'International arms flows into the region have been channelled by powerful agents close to the governments of the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda to various armed groups and militia in eastern DRC who practise banditry and show little or no respect for human rights.'

    View a copy of the report online...

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